Saugatuck, Michigan … love this harbor town

Just got back from a lovely visit to Michigan to visit family. It’s July and the temperatures hovered in the 70’s and the humidity was non-existent. It was such a nice respite from the Houston heat!

While the boys went fishing, the girls visited the Lake Michigan harbor town of Saugatuck, about an hour away from Kalamazoo. We only had time to squeeze out a few hours. It felt like skipping stones over the surface of a travel destination loaded with plenty of seaside charm, lots of boutique shopping, dining … fine and casual, homemade fudge, cookies and ice cream establishments and wine tasting. We chose the Coral Gables Restaurant, right on the lake, located at 220 Water Street for our lunch break. Nice salads and gourmet sandwiches! Highly recommend!

From the Saugatuck Visitor’s Guide there appears to be plenty of lodging, performing arts and recreation, like the Harbor Duck tour and boat cruises. I could totally see hangin’ out in the town for a relaxing week.

During our stroll through the town, we sampled interesting olive oils and balsamic vinegars at the Olive Mill. There were purchases in the Spice Merchants, a shop specializing in spices and teas. I picked up some exotic salts and a spice mill. Kilwin’s Chocolates was out in force on the street handing out handmade fudge samples. Yum!

My personal favorite shop was The T-Shirt Shoppe located at 107 Butler Street. Sorry there was no website that I could find, although they already have a few great reviews! The store concept is simple and the results were lovely! Purchase a high quality t-shirt, pick out one of their unique designs. They silkscreen your shirt which is ready to pick up in under an hour. Check out the little duck design Mimi is sporting!

My only regret is we weren’t able to stay longer!

A love story at Trader Joe’s

Why has it taken me so long to be formally introduced to Trader Joe’s? I know … what galaxy am I from … right?

Before last week I only knew some basic tidbits about Trader Joe’s. First, it is a grocery-related type of establishment started way out west in California. Second, they are apparently famous for selling Two Buck Chuck … a “cheap” wine beverage. That’s it! I knew nothin’ else about the place. Hey, I live in the Houston area. We’ve only just recently gotten a couple of Trader Joe’s locations. It made huge news here in Texas.

The fun part about writing a blog is sometimes you gotta go on a field trip when an idea creeps into your head. With camera in tow, I drove the 20+ miles to the Houston location on South Shepherd to figure out for myself just what was so special about Trader Joe’s. Oh, and get something for dinner. I’m always struggling with what to make for dinner.

So Trader Joe’s opened a store in an old building that used to be a bookstore … that used to be a movie theater. The theater was called the Alabama Theater. Hubby and I saw “Love Story” in that building when it came out on one of our first dates. I still recall the tears in Rick’s eyes. We were waiting in a long line to go in. And no … the tears had nothin’ to do with the storyline. The dude was knowingly going to watch a chick flick.

Thankfully, Trader Joe’s kept lots of the architectural elements of the old theater building. I liked that. The bright red grocery carts were also a nice touch. I was a little confused about the Fearless Flyer. I think it’s a list of specials but I could be wrong. I put one in my cart to read later but it disappeared. I think the check-out lady swiped it. Recycling must be one of their agendas.

I wandered around and around the aisles for about an hour picking up a few items here and there. My daughter told me I would do that. My friend, Beth, told me the mac and cheese with four cheeses on the frozen food aisle was awesome! Got it! Oh, and don’t forget about the cheesecake in the bright blue box, also frozen food.

I took a picture of the famous Two Buck Chuck. Totally expected it to be packaged in a plastic bottle. Wasn’t I surprised to learn Chuck is actually Charles Shaw Winery? And the glass bottle and label is actually quite nice looking. Oh, and it cost $2.99 and comes in lots of “flavors.” Wasn’t brave enough to get a bottle. Next time.

Just so you know … I’ve never had an In-N-Out Burger either. I know … I might as well be from Pluto … and it isn’t even a planet anymore!

For Pinot’s sake

I learned there are several ways to approach visiting California wineries. One popular way is to reserve a seat on a limo/bus and travel to a bunch of wineries in one day without getting arrested for playing bumper cars on Highway 29. You can find plenty of limo services on the web that, for a fee, will drive you around all day. Our daughter-in-law did just that for our son’s birthday this year. They had a blast! Oh, and they were so snookered by lunch they fell asleep on the grass during one of the winery stops. Yep, and nearly got left behind by their limo driver. I asked if they took any pictures of the wineries. They figured the camera would get lost, so they left it home. Smart kids!

With only one day to get the teeniest sip of wine country, we considered the limo approach, but opted for just picking one winery that included a tour. We actually were in the area to visit our Air Force son, who is today deploying to scary parts of the world, and our lovely daughter-in-law. With a French oak barrel full of possibilities, how in the world does anyone pick a winery? That was the twenty dollar question. Our oldest daughter and new son-in-law came to the rescue. They had just gotten back from their honeymoon in Napa and Sonoma.

“I went to and Hendry Winery had lots of great reviews,” Katie said.

She knew her engineer/dad would love George Hendry and his approach to winemaking. I mean how often does one get to be in the presence of a dude that is passionate about wine and also designs cyclotrons for Pinot’s sake? George is also a physicist. I liked that Hendry wine ( is made of grapes harvested from the 140 acres of grapes planted on the estate. Oh, and the bottle of Hendry Pinot that Katie and Chad brought back to us certainly helped sealed the deal.

The tour/tasting lasted 2-1/2 hours. They do them twice a day. Be sure to reserve in advance. It was $40 per person (fee waived with equivalent purchase) and included an educational tour of the vineyard, where they made and stored the wines, and a seated, formal tasting. Katie indicated a “seated tasting” was a little unusual for Napa/Sonoma and she thought we’d enjoy it better than hangin’ onto a bar for dear life. Did we ever!

Somewhere between their unoaked Chardonnay and the Pinot Noir, I was feeling warm and a tad lightheaded. It’s probably why I couldn’t tell you whether we sampled six, seven or eight different wines. We were taught to swirl and sip and it was all good … especially the Pinot Noir. We noticed the difference in taste and color of the barrel fermented and unoaked Chardonnay. Of the 12 bottles we bought, and they conveniently shipped home to us, three were Pinot Noir. We are saving them for a special occasion. What the heck, we’ll uncork a bottle this weekend. Weekends are special, aren’t they?

Not enough time in California Wine Country

My husband and I recently returned from our first visit to wine country. Our reason for heading to the Sonoma area actually had nothing to do with wine. But we managed to squeak in a couple of days just the same. Before our visit, I bought a book about everything you ever wanted to know about the area and then got thoroughly confused. I asked everyone I knew for recommendations and decided there were just too many choices for the two short days we would be hangin’ there. What follows is where we wound up!

North of Santa Rosa is a quaint little town called Healdsburg. It has a lovely town plaza surrounded by wine tasting shops, boutiques, nice restaurants, two dynamite bakeries, a memorable art gallery and even a tiny quilt shop called Fabrications. We lingered the longest in the Oakville Grocery, bookstore and kitchen shop!

We didn’t have a huge amount of advance notice when we booked the trip, so I was a tad concerned about finding nice accommodations. The B&B we chose was actually our third choice, as two other options were full. The Haydon Street Inn ( was built in 1912 and restored with the perfect mixture of old and modern. It far exceeded our expectations. The Victorian mansion is a five-block stroll from all the action in the town square of Healdsburg. Our hosts were John, a former executive chef from Churchill Downs in Kentucky, and Keran. Can this guy cook!!! We stayed in the huge Cottage Suite. Separate from the main house, it has a claw-footed tub and modern shower and lots of lovely touches.

Every morning John cooked up an amazing three-course gourmet breakfast for guests in the main house. The cold raspberry soup, grilled grapefruit and ham/cheese omelet were my favorite. In the evening there is a reception with local wine and snacks. Did I mention that John built a pizza oven in the backyard? I know … I had to do a double-take when I saw it. You should see him hand toss that pizza dough. My favorite pizza was the pesto topped with cheese and artichokes. Are you drooling yet?

We soon learned restaurants require reservations and Keran made them all for us. We loved Willi’s Seafood & Raw Bar (small plate fare to share … loved the lobster rolls), Ravenous (teeny tiny place with amazing food/great desserts) and Zin Restaurant & Wine Bar ( touts farm fresh at your table. Oh, and we also ate lunch at The Girl & the Fig ( in Sonoma after hitting a winery tour in the morning. Loved it!

Come back next week. I’ll be writing about the winery tour/tasting we took!